Nile Rodgers' Advice on Surviving The Music Industry

From the Chic man and production legend
Nile Rodgers
The aspiring rock star’s indispensable guide to surviving a life in music, with advice from those who know best.

As the co-founder of Chic, Nile Rodgers is responsible for disco staples such as ‘Le Freak’ and ‘Good Times’, and production duties for Sister Sledge, Madonna, David Bowie and Duran Duran. The guy’s a legend and here are his Rock And Rules.

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Chic - Le Freak



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Bands have to work as a unit
The most important thing that I learnt at the Apollo Theatre is that a funk/groove band moves as a unit. The best way to describe it is like when you see a big flock of birds flying and they all turn at the same time - that’s the way a funk unit operates. At the Apollo it was really hardcore, you wouldn’t know if the artist would be drunk or just doing something different on a whim and you had to follow them. If you didn’t follow someone, your mistake would stick out, and believe me, you would not be sitting in that chair the next day. It was like a black coliseum: thumbs up and thumbs down. I can’t tell you the names of the stars - and they were big stars - who were insulted by the fans there. It was that hardcore.

Don’t get too messed up
No matter how high I got, there are certain things I would never do. It’s really hard for me to cross certain boundaries. I have a real old school musician’s discipline, because I know I have to keep things together to make it to the session the next day no matter what, even though I would get really messed up - although one night with Joey Ramone people literally had to carry us out of the house. We were on the floor. I probably might have missed the recording studio that day but you can count the days I did that on one hand.

Save all your stuff
We saved everything. We were really, really meticulous as record producers. It’s unbelievable, I’m now writing my life story at the moment and right now I have my original contract with David Bowie. And he signed it first! I didn’t believe it was happening so I made him sign it first. To have these things is just incredible.

Anonymity can be a great thing
When we were younger we used to follow KISS around as they played at a lot of the same places we were playing at. We idolised them, their shit was incredible to us. But the main thing about them that we loved was their anonymity. I can’t tell you the amount of times we would be hanging out with the guys and not one person would come up and talk to us. We loved that because we were back-up musicians. All of our lives we played behind stars. So Bernard [Edwards, Chic co-founder] and I started a band where we created stars that stood in front of us. We liked to just hide in the background because that’s what we were comfortable with.

Your songs can be much bigger than you’ll ever be
The songs have always been bigger than us. The very last night of Bernard’s life we were about to go on stage and I could see tears running down his cheek. He was the last guy to get emotional about a gig - to him it was just a job. He started crying and his exact words were, ‘Wow, man. We did it.” I asked him what he meant and he replied, ‘We did it. They didn’t come here to see us. They came here to see our songs. Our songs are bigger than we are.’ He got really philosophical and maybe he knew he was dying. He passed out that night during ‘Let’s Dance’ with Simon Le Bon on vocals. He was so musical he passed out during the second verse so there was no bass in it. I thought that it sounded cool and wished I’d tried that on the record, I had no idea that he had passed out behind me and was dying. They revived him and he came straight back in at exactly the right part. The doctors said he had to go to hospital because of his temperature, but he played the whole show and then when we were out after the show he carried on passing out. He was narcoleptic so it wasn’t that alarming to us. Even though the doctor told him to go to hospital we were old school musicians so we would just do the show, get through the show and deal with stuff tomorrow. But tomorrow never came.

Get a partner you trust
The thing that I’ve always believed in is that you’ve gotta find someone else. You need to have a partner who can always be brutally honest with you, that’ll tell you that your shit sucks or that if you change something it will make it better, but they’re doing it not out of ego, but out of love. To have someone who can fill in the missing bits of your intellectual and artistic personality; that is an invaluable partnership. It doesn’t have to be a musician - it just has to be someone that you trust. In this business, and it’s harder nowadays, if you don’t have that person who can prop you up, you will get demoralised so easily.

Words by Josh Jones

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